Parents have lots of questions about teen social media safety. What apps are safe, and which aren’t? Should you be monitoring their social-media use, and if so, how and how often? As parents you want to help your kids become good digital citizens. There are many reasons for this, including protecting your kids from cyberbullying, child predators and other physical or emotional dangers. At the same time, what teens share online can have a huge impact on their reputations—and along with it, their futures.
We asked digital-media professionals for their best recommendations to keep teens safe online. Here are a few of their suggestions:
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Become a cyber savvy parent
Dr. Elizabeth R. Henry, Pediatrician and Founder of Dr. Liz Consulting
Teens today are masters at multitasking, using multiple forms of technology and participating on social media. It can be challenging to monitor the online safety of my 17-year-old daughter when she is simultaneously checking her text messages, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook page. However, as a pediatrician and teen consultant, I have learned that the best way to ensure her online safety is to become cyber savvy and have open lines of communication.
I am my daughter’s friend on almost every social media channel and, if I am not her friend, I have access to her passwords. My daughter knows that her access to social media is a privilege and not a right, so there are certain rules that must be followed. If she posts something that I don’t like, I take the opportunity to have a teachable moment and discuss what’s inappropriate and why it should be taken down.
The two of us actually have fun interacting on social media. Parental involvement in social media and other forms of new technology is an essential part of keeping teens safe.
Janada Clark, Parent Educator at Clear Path Parent Education
As a parent educator for over 30 years, I support parents with loving and effective tools to decrease conflict and increase cooperation. Parents are uneasy and distressed over their teens’ use of the Internet and social media. Parents with very young children can use blocking software with good results, but not so with savvy tweens.
I have partnered with eyeDactic, a company of engineers and dads from Silicon Valley who have written a software system that monitors a child’s use of the Internet on all their devices. It runs quietly in the background and gives parents an immediate update of all web browsers and URLs the teen visits, their location and how much time they spend on any website or social media. It is not blocking software; eyeDactic is about the relationship between the parent and the teen. The teen agrees to be monitored so they can prove to the parent that they can be trusted.
Give your teen the chance to prove they can be responsible
Alice Neaves, Parent Blogger at XXX Church
After a recent look at my son’s browser history, I was shocked to find out what he’s been accessing and looking at online. I’ve always trusted him to make the right decisions, but the honor system simply wasn’t cutting it anymore. I didn’t want to take away his freedom and constrain him from being able to access certain pages, but I did want to have a better way to monitor and address the problems I had with these sites.
I pride myself on keeping open communication with my children and have worked hard to create trusting relationships with them. But at a certain point, the friendship has to stop and the parenting has to start. After a long talk about the importance of Internet safety, I decided to install the program X3watch on all of their devices. X3watch is an accountability software that monitors what my children are looking at and sends me a message whenever they go to sites that I have added to the accountability list. I like it because it gives my children the chance to prove they can make the right decisions when using the Internet without forcing me to install a page blocker.
Talk to your teen about the future
Josh Ochs, author of the bestselling book “Light, Bright And Polite”, @JoshOchs
Inspire kids. Instead of telling them what not to do and scaring them, talk to them about their future. Ask what their dream school or job is, and get them pumped up about their future—then ask them what they think colleges and potential employers consider when evaluating candidates, whether it’s positive or negative. This gives them a better understanding of why the tone and content of what they post matters and a tangible incentive to listen to your concerns.
They’re probably amazing people in real life. They need to make sure that comes across online in order to make a good impression where it really matters.
Develop an open line of communication
Melissa Schwartz, co-founder of Leading Edge Parenting, @MelissaSchwartz
The biggest challenge that parents face with their teens is getting them to open up about what’s really going on in their lives—and this cannot be coerced, because it is so easy for teens to hide, avoid and lie about their lives to their parents, online or offline. Openness must be developed and nurtured over time and comes through building trust on both ends.
One way is to become aware of our emotional reactions when they share their truths with us. If we become unstable, judgmental or fall apart, then we seem untrustworthy. If you want your children to open up to you, the best gift you can give them is to handle your own emotions well and build two-way trust so that online behavior is not kept so secretive. If you think about it, what children need in order to stay safe online is the same that they need out in the world: tuning into their inner wisdom so that when something doesn’t feel right, they stop and listen to their gut.